The ear canal, which is the cylindrical-shaped structure that connects the outer part of the ear to the ear drum, measures about 2.5 centimeters long and 7 to 9 millimeters wide. Its primary function is to protect the ear from foreign objects and infection. Since the canal is long, it's difficult for foreign objects to enter.
Apart from that, it also produces earwax or cerumen that traps the debris entering the ear. It also makes the ear acidic so that any bacteria that enters the ear won't be able to survive. On top of all these, the ear canal is equipped with tiny hairs that serve as barrier against foreign objects.
Also called otitis externa, the Swimmer's Ear is a painful ailment that affects the outer part of the ear as well as the ear canal. When the skin lining that serves as protective barrier in the ear canal breaks, this would enable bacteria and fungi to enter through the outer ear. The barrier can be broken when you insert objects into your ear. These include cotton-tipped swabs.
Excessive moisture is another major culprit. Swimming tends to increase the moistures in the ear canal that alters the acidic environment. This, in turn, lets the guard down and allows for the invasion of bacteria or fungi. That's why the condition is called swimmer's ear. It's very common among swimmers. It's also highly prevalent during the summer months when people go to the beach and swimming pools to cool off.
But it's also important to remember that this can affect anyone. Even if you're not a swimmer or even if you didn't go for a swim, you can be affected by this condition if you did something to tear down the skin lining of your ear canal. Items placed inside the ears like earplugs, headphones, earphones, hearing aids, and so on can increase the risk of swimmer's ear.
Other causes include chemicals like bleaches, shampoos, or hair dyes that reach the ear canal and irritate it. This can lead to an infection. Moreover, inflammation of the ear canal due to infections, skin conditions, or allergies can also result in this problem. Outer ear infection is commonly caused by bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In few cases, fungi can also cause swimmer's ear.
Most of the time, it's easy to detect if a person has swimmer's ear since the most common symptom is pain. The pain often involves just one ear and aggravates when the ear is pulled or touched. Other symptoms include redness of the outer ear, swollen ear canal, itchy ear canal, yellowish or whitish discharge from the ear, ringing of the ear (tinnitus), dizziness or vertigo, and slight fever.
There are various ways to prevent this problem. For one, if you're going swimming, make use of shower caps and earplugs, as these would help keep the water away from the ear canal. Choose earplugs that are made of special wax. Don't place objects into the ear. Anything that can scrape or scratch the skin inside the ear can lead to infection.